While it can be easy to spot a native English-speaker trying to communicate in Hebrew –
whether it be their inability to commit to the ‘CH’ when saying, “l’chaim” or their unnecessarily hard Rs when answering, “b’seder” – they aren’t the only ones who stick out like sore thumbs in Tel Aviv. Israelis can be spotted just as easily around town by their ‘interesting’ grammatical choices when trying to speak English.
Citizen Café OOlpan has opened up its ears to the mistakes Israelis make when trying to speak English to help you understand some key structural components of the Hebrew language as you learn Hebrew like the locals. Here are 5 of those common mistakes:
1. “I must to go!”
Say you tell your Israeli friend about this amazing art exhibition you went to at Gordon Gallery and they respond with, “Wow! I must to go.” Don’t stare at them blankly…what they really meant to say was “I must go.” That extra “to” is thrown in because in Hebrew, “I must” is followed by an infinitive (i.e. I must + to go = אני חייב ללכת / ani chayav lalechet), so they may accidentally add it into their English speech.
2. “Let’s invite a pizza” / “Let’s order a friend”
Is he talking about some sort of mail-order friend or something? And who invited a pizza to the party? In Hebrew, the verbs “to order” and “to invite” are one in the same (i.e. let’s invite/order a pizza = בוא נזמין פיצה / boh nazmin pizza), so don’t get thrown off when you’re in a café on Rothschild with your Israeli friend and they ask you if you’re ready to “invite the check.” They aren’t talking about your Czech friend, Jakub.
3. “How many brothers do you have?”
Forgive your Israeli friend when she asks you how many brothers you have, especially when you’ve told her your siblings are all female. Your friend isn’t trying to make any gender insinuations. In Hebrew, the term “brothers” can be used to describe “siblings” in general (i.e. how many siblings do you have = ?כמה אחים יש לך / cama achim yesh lecha?) The same goes for nephews/nieces and aunts/uncles.
4. “The table is so heavy…can you help me move him?”
All objects in Hebrew are assigned genders; hence, when native Hebrew speakers refer to objects in English, they often ascribe genders to those objects as well. For example, “I love your new dress, where did you buy her?”
(?אני אוהב את השמלה שלך. איפה קנית אותה / ani ohev et hasimlah shelach, eifo kanit ota?) does not infer that you are wearing a woman for a dress. Just like how your table isn’t a real male human being either.
5. “Life are good”
Despite the new dreadlocks look, your coworker is not hinting at their belief in reincarnation. Similar to how Israeli’s ascribe gender to nouns, many objects that are singular in English are actually plural in Hebrew. When they announce “life are good” (החיים טובים / ha’chaim tovim), what they really believe is that “life IS good” – just the one. And when they tell you they can’t remember where their bicycle are, they don’t own multiple bicycles either.
These are just some of the mistakes Israelis make when trying to speak English. Learn like a local. Sign up for Citizen Café OOlpan HERE to find out why Israelis speak English the way they do and how these phrases connect to the Hebrew language.
Written by Efrat Chen, Director of Hebrew at Citizen Café